She’s backstage, getting ready for her first performance on national television. Hair and makeup accentuate her natural beauty, giving her a look that’s part ‘90s grunge and part Diana Ross. She takes her place onstage; the host introduces her to the world. Spotlight comes on, cameras start rolling, she takes a deep breath and sings.
SZA’s performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live was a cause for celebration. Over the course of four minutes, I saw one of my favorite artists sing her best record to date and captivate her audience with a newfound sense of confidence. This was a glamorous and exciting SZA, a SZA that was completely in control.
SZA’s story is one that we’ve seen time and time again. It’s the story of a girl breaking free of her strict upbringing and forging her own path. It’s a story that was famously told by Janet Jackson thirty years ago with her third album, Control.
“This is a story about control / My control / Control of what I say / Control of what I do / And this time I'm gonna do it my way” – Janet Jackson, “Control”
When Control came out, its impact reverberated across the music industry. It broke numerous records, ushered in a new sound and set the template for future artists such as Aaliyah, Beyoncé and Rihanna. Given the title of SZA’s new album (CTRL), it’s fair to assume that she’s going to be following in the same footsteps.
Prior to “Drew Barrymore,” I was concerned for SZA’s wellbeing. Life is the thing that happens between albums and it seemed that SZA had recently experienced a lot of life:
“My life has just been falling the fuck apart. I buried, like, three ex-boyfriends, my granny died, I buried someone two days ago… I’m devastated by the state of the world and the hatred.” – SZA’s Interview with Complex
But like the person that song drew inspiration from, SZA took all of this pain and turned it into something beautiful: art.
As a child star in the ‘80s, Drew Barrymore’s early career was mired in controversy. From going to rehab at a young age to being told to ‘cover up’ by her famous godfather Steven Spielberg, Barrymore was the best case for stopping kids from entering show business.
However, through sheer force of will, Drew Barrymore eventually blossomed into a talented, if underrated, Hollywood figure whose film career has produced over 3 billion in inflation-adjusted ticket sales. Her production company (Flower Films) was responsible for the box office hit Charlie’s Angels (2000) and the cult-classic Donnie Darko and, away from the limelight, Barrymore was named an Ambassador Against Hunger for the UN World Food Programme, for which she has donated over $1 million.
Ultimately, Drew Barrymore’s life is a great example for women who accept their mistakes as part of the journey and carry on unapologetically.
“I never regret anything. Because every little detail of your life is what made you into who you are in the end.” – Drew Barrymore
Like Barrymore did with her first autobiography Little Girl Lost, it seems that SZA is using CTRL as an opportunity to air her dirty laundry and mature as a result of it. Whether it’s coming to terms with her loneliness or admitting that she slept with her ex-boyfriend’s best friend, SZA’s music is setting the stage for women to authentically be themselves:
“I'm sorry I'm not more attractive / I'm sorry I'm not more ladylike / I'm sorry I don't shave my legs at night / I'm sorry I'm not your baby mama / I'm sorry you got karma coming to you / Collect and soak in it right” – SZA, “Drew Barrymore”
In a world where women must march to protect their rights and the proverbial glass ceiling very much exists, it’s important that an artist like SZA gets her moment in the spotlight. Similar to Janet Jackson’s Control, my hope is that SZA’s forthcoming album becomes the soundtrack to independence for a new generation of women.
SZA finally became a star after her performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Now, it’s time to see how brightly she can shine.